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Teacher tricks: Better lesson planning to ease teacher workload

In my last post we examined the eye-popping statistics to do with teacher job satisfaction, and the resultant impact on losses in the teaching profession, not to mention on student outcomes. We established that teachers primarily complain of over-work, particularly due to time spent on administrative tasks, mainly:

  • Data Management
  • Lesson Planning and
  • Grading

In that first post we looked at ways that technology can assist teacher to save time, and extract greater value from their time spent managing data. It’s time to focus on the second item of the above list. Today we take a look at Lesson Planning, and tech-enabled tips and tricks teachers can employ to streamline this time-heavy process.

Better lesson planning: Start with the end in mind

Before we begin I wanted to share a great blog post I read by Peps McCrea who chats about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Lessons Plans. To my mind one of the best points he makes is the first: start with the end in mind. He suggest that teachers make a mistake if they begin their lesson plans in one of two ways: Activity First or Curriculum First.

Teachers who start by identifying an activity (and then reversing a lesson into that activity) run the risk of having their objective simply being “keeping students busy”. Another wrong lesson plan strategy is to start with the textbook (or other content) and simply develop a plan that covers the content over time, as this runs the risk of developing into lesson plans that simply “work through the curriculum”.

The ideal strategy, says McCrea, is to identify the absolute clearest lesson your students must have absorbed by the time they walk out of the classroom, and work backwards from there:

“Taking time to get excessive clarity about what you want your students to have learned by the time they walk out the door at the end of the lesson. This involves mapping out, breaking down and thinking hard about how the various components of the learning trajectory hang together.”

So, assuming you have identified your lesson objective, the next step is naturally to map out a path for your students to get them to that end point, and technology can help enormously in this endeavor.

  1. Stop reinventing the wheel

    The internet is chock full of generous teachers and institutions who are uploading high value lesson plans, that can be used as primers for your lesson, or be used wholesale. I have hunted for high quality lesson plan libraries below, but there are many more available.

    • Lesson Plan Archives: Education World is an incredible resource, and their lesson library is wonderfully creative. Well worth spending quality time on this page.
    • American Library of Congress: Civics, American History and American Literature
    • USA Today Educate: Practical, current lessons in everything from Technology, Health, Science, Current Affairs with a healthy batch of project based lesson plans too.

    Once you have visited some of these resources you may feel a sense of wonder and excitement; I certainly did. I felt like taking myself through some of the lessons, as they looked like such fun (oh, to be a student again!)

    It’s important, however, to repeat our caution: try not to fall into the “keeping students busy” trap. While it may tempting to copy-and-paste these classroom-ready plans, empower your lesson by first establishing what the ultimate objective is, and perhaps tweak or adjust the lesson plans you find online to fit that goal.

  2. Openers

    Most students arrive in class chattering and distracted, and it’s seldom easy to begin a new lesson, or new direction in your subject, straight away. Your lesson plan should include a few “openers” that help students settle their minds into the lesson, and begin asking themselves the right questions about what they are about to learn.

    Some fun ways to do this is through games, videos and puzzles. Let’s see what’s available online:


    Sqooltube specializes in curating educational videos (primary elementary and middle school) from YouTube, and have a large collection (categorised by subject) that are lively and interesting ways to introduce youngsters to complex content. I especially enjoyed the videos on Why are Bridges so Strong?, Tyrannosaurus Debt, a quirky opener for your lessons on the national budget and remarkably AstroBiology.

    TedEd is the famous online video/lecture website TEDx, oriented and engineered for educators. It has a great facility where you can build an entire lesson around specific videos. TedEd retains the TEDx facility for quirky, off the wall concepts; the one that caught my eye was a video exploring “Why isn’t the World Covered in Poop?”.


    Another nifty way of opening a lesson is with a carefully selected game. If you have a flipped classroom, you could request your students to spend some time at home mastering the game, and see who arrives in class the next day with the best score. Alternatively, there are a host of printable puzzles and games that are just as effective. Try out some of these better resources:

    • Video games at Cool Math are a great way to stimulate your students curiosity. The site has a very wide range of games, although there may be too many “runner” style, hand-eye coordination games for some educators, digging deep you will find a good number of gems such as Under the Microscope, a great range of Geography quizzes called Guess Countries, and the addictive, arithmetic game Numberium.

    For printable puzzles there are few wonderful resources:

    • SparkleBox is an incredible resource of high quality educational printables, from science and maths through to arts and literacy. All free and very useful.
    • Puzzles to Print is another good resource, focussing mainly on crosswords, word find, mazes and sudoku style puzzles for all ages. Many of them are created by category, so there are chemistry, geography and history puzzles too.
  3. Learning Management Systems

    The ultimate time saver, when it comes to lesson planning is a Learning Management System. A decent LMS should allow you to not only build custom classes, importing or creating in your dashboard everything from audio and video to graphic and text content. You should also have the opportunity to use a host of well-planned lesson plan templates to save you time on starting everything from scratch.

    Finally, a good LMS will enable you to sync across different classroom types; you create a master class copy, and any changes you make in that copy are immediately sent to the different classes that pull the content from the master.

    The very cool thing about quality LMSs is that your students needn’t necessarily be members of the system, you can use it for free to manage your own portfolio of classes, content and outcomes.

Keep an eye on the K-20 Blog

Stay tuned for our final blog in this series where we look at how technology can help you get on top of that pile of grading. So keep an eye on the K-20 Blog!